Holi Festival of Colors

Holi is a traditional two day Hindu festival known as the “Festival of Color”. Holi has also been called the “Festival of Love”. The festival is celebrated near the end of winter time, and marks the beginning of the spring season. A large theme of the festival is the celebration of good triumphing over evil.

Holi is a very revered holiday and is celebrated in most parts of India, as well as in many parts of the globe. The festival is a time for family and friends to spend time together and share their love for one another.

holi festival of colorsThe History of Holi

Holi has been celebrated in India for centuries. Mention of the Festival of Color has been found on a stone inscription dating back to 300 B.C. The Holi holiday originally began as a rite for married women. Married women within the community would perform this rite in order to bless their families for the coming year. In this earlier version of the holiday, the full moon, known as Raka, was the celebrated deity.

The celebration of Holi morphed over the centuries to the traditions that we see in Indian, and around the world, today. The Holi holiday is representative of a few themes. The first is the changing of the seasons. With the winter season ending, the fields have begun to bloom, and the festival celebrates fertility of the land. During the festival there is hope for a good harvest at the end of the summer.

The most prevailing theme in this holiday is the celebration of good triumphing over evil forces. This portion of the tradition comes from multiple stories within the Hindu religion. Most common is the story of the destruction of the demoness Holika, for which the first day of the celebration gets its name. In the legend of the demon King Hiranyakashyap, the king wanted everyone to worship only himself and no one else. The son of the king, Prahlad, had developed a devotion to Lord Naarayana (named Lord Vishnu in some tellings). Prahlad was committed to the Lord and did not want to worship his father, the king. The king wanted to rid himself of Prahlad for his betrayal. The king then convinced Prahlad’s sister, Holika to carry out his plan. Holika had the ability to walk into fires without being burned or injured. Holika was to carry Prahlad into a fire and destroy him. What Holika did not know, was that her power only worked when she was alone. When she entered the fire with Prahlad, she was destroyed instead. Prahlad, however, was saved from the flames because of his devotion.

Another Hindu story celebrated during Holi is the legend of Shiva and Kaamadeva. In this story, Shiva was in a deep meditation that would destroy the world. The Lord of Passion, Kaamadeva, risked his life to break Shiva of her meditation. He was successful, and saved the world.

Holi is also a celebration of love. In the story of Lord Krichna, the lord applied color to Radha as a symbol of their eternal love. This application of color has become an important part of how Holi is celebrated.

holi festival of colorActivities at a Holi Celebration

Holi is celebrated over two days. The festivities last through the days and nights and include music, drinks and food. The first day of Holi is called “Holika Dahan”, “Choti Holi” or “small Holi”. The literal translation of Holi means “burning”. With that, and the legend of the destruction of the demoness Holika in mind, the first day of celebration takes place around a bonfire. The fire symbolizes the battle between good and evil. After sunset, an effigy of Holika is placed on the bonfire wood and the fire is lit.

The second day of the celebration is simply called “Holi”. This day is celebrated with color. The popularity of the use of color for Holi comes from the story of Lord Krichna and Radha. Just as color was a celebration of Lord Krichna and Radha’s eternal love, Holi is a celebration of love between friends and family. Thus, the application and spreading of color became a part of the Holi tradition. During the daytime on the second day of the celebration, large sections of the community meet in gathering places. Since the celebration is supposed to bring positivity into one’s life, people attend these gatherings with the intention of putting aside any bitterness or displeasure with anyone else. These large groups of people then spread color by spraying colored water or dumping buckets of colored water on each other. Colored powder is also thrown into the air as a group.

In addition to the colorful celebration, there are also traditional snacks, drinks and dancing. The traditional cold drink thandai is often served. Those who partake in the holiday also enjoy a number of traditional delicacies, such as a lentil dishes (Saankhein), sweet flatbreads (Puran Poli), dumplings (Gujia and Dahi Bhalla), potato dishes (Papri) and desserts (Malpua and sweet Kachoris).

A number of Indian songs are played and sung during Holi. Bollywood has portrayed the theme of Holi many times, and some of these songs have made their way into the modern Holi tradition. “Amtiabh Bachchan” is a song from the movie “Silsilay” that is very popular during the celebration. The most popular song associated with Holi is “Rang Barse”, which was written by Harivansh Rai Bachchan. This song is specifically about the celebration; it’s chorus repeats “The scarf girl is drenched by the water colors”.

The evening of the second day of Holi is celebrated in more intimate setting. During this time, close family and friends will get together, away from the larger community celebration earlier in the day. This gathering is usually in the home, and is a time to express love and respect for one another.

holi festivalPopularity in the United States

Holi has been celebrated in the United States for many years, and the holiday gains more popularity every year. There is a large Indian population in the United States that promotes events and gatherings for Holi.

Celebrating Holi in the United States is important for Indians for two reasons. For those who have moved away from India to the United States, it is a tradition that can be celebrated no matter where they live. For Indian descendants who have not experienced Holi in India, celebrating this festival connects them to their cultural roots.

Holi celebrations in the United states are often sponsored by Indian groups on college campuses. One said group is the North American Association of Indian Students, or NAAIS. NAAIS represents Indian students in both the United States and Canada. In the U.S., the NAAIS has chapters in 23 states and 23,000 student members. Holi celebrations are also hosted by the Indian Students Association, or ISA. The ISA unites all South Asian campus organizations at the schools they represent. They then host traditional events and other community events like game days and volunteer opportunities for the students in these organizations. Currently, the University of Texas in Austin boasts the largest ISA organization.

University campuses are not the only places where Holi is celebrated in the United States. There are many cities and municipalities that host Holi festivals, either because of a large Indian population in the area, or as a resource for cultural awareness. Last year, some of the largest gatherings were held in New York City, New York, Las Vegas, Nevada, Salt Lake City, Utah, Parker, Texas and Spanish Fork, Utah. The annual celebration in New York City is one of the largest in the United States. Their festival includes a parade through the city in which festival-goers throw color.

Eco-Friendly Holi Celebrations

As with many holiday traditions, some pieces of the celebration become environmentally unfriendly over the years, and Holi is no different. Many organizations, cities and municipalities are working to celebrate Holi in an eco-friendly way.

As the climate has changed worldwide, some Holi celebrations avoid the use of a large bonfire on the first night of the holiday. They instead use a smaller bonfire or bonfires in order to burn less wood, make less smoke and reduce the potential of spreading the fire outside of the festival location. Some groups are even using symbolic fires, to avoid an actual flame at all.

Water use is another environmental cause some Holi celebrations are taking up. Instead of spraying water or using buckets of water to spread color, some celebration are using only powdered color, like this collection from Color Powder Supply.

Lastly, what is in the color being used at Holi celebrations is being scrutinized. Since color is placed directly on the skin for an extended time, there has been a shift to natural color powder and liquid without chemicals.

Regardless of when and where one celebrates Holi, it is a rich tradition. It is no surprise that the holiday has gained, and will continue to gain, popularity in countries all over the globe.

Start Planning Your Own Holi Festival of Colors

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